Marriage as Antidote to a Life Too Public

Part Four of the essay Professor Without Portfolio.

A year earlier, I had met among the university’s officially-sponsored student organizations one  Eleanor Chiye Omoto. A san-sei (her grandparents had emigrated from Japan to Hawaii), she had come as far East as Ohio State to secure the mainland post-secondary education that Japanese and Chinese families in Hawaii of even modest means then thought superior to any existing option in the islands. We married in the wake of The Spokesman saga, and commenced in Hawaii a 25-year marriage that produced three complicated, distinctive and wonderful children (Sam and Kelly in Hawaii and Kate in Seattle), helped me acquire three post-secondary degrees (the B.A. and M.A. from the University of Hawaii, and the Ph.D. from the University of Washington, all in Political Science and Chinese Studies) and gave us for much of 13 years a rich and fulfilling life in Gambier, Ohio, home of Kenyon College, about an hour’s drive from where I had grown up. There the children were raised pretty largely by their mother in partnership with the public schools;  “Dad” was AWOL—writing his dissertation, teaching, advising, and getting caught up in the infinitesimally insignificant and yet infinitely absorbing issues of campus life. Ellie refused the offers of time and curriculum to earn an undergraduate degree, and we separated and divorced in the 1980’s, after we had moved to Chicago and all three children had left home. We remain in close and regular contact.


During the first two-thirds of the Kenyon sojourn, I was busy defending the American military presence in Southeast Asia. During the rest of it, I sought with increasing desperation to defend liberal education against the growing attack of pre-professional undergraduate training.


Ellie had helped me escape the addictive, cabalistic life of dogmatic journalism I had fallen into at Ohio State. She thought I would make a good academic. Our marriage forced me to corral the peripatetic scatter of my life. I began moving systematically toward a Bachelor’s degree in Politics, the subject that I liked most to write about, and I experimented along the way from Ohio State to the University of Hawaii with several alternatives to the future lost in my father’s death.


In the wake of the collapse of The Spokesman, I edited a weekly journal on “super modified” automobile racing. It was assembled and published in Granville, Ohio, and entailed my carrying a 35mm Heiland Pentax to the infields of dirt tracks around the Midwest to photograph—and dodge—spectacular spin outs and wrecks. (I suffered one scare in those days that almost broke me of my smoking addiction. I switched to “chewing” because composing and laying out the racing paper required the uninterrupted use of both hands for about four solid hours at a time. One morning, during a one-sided exchange with a highway patrolman particularly critical of my driving, I got over the chewing but not quite the addiction; I swallowed my “cud” and suffered a day’s worth of violent “hick-ups” unrelieved by—well—regurgitation.)


For a while during this period, I wrote a weekly column on urban affairs and race relations for a Black-owned daily in Columbus whose staff, to our mutual entertainment, couldn’t avoid overexposing my half-column author’s photo. At the outset of the Hawaii sojourn, I wrote “features” and sold ads for a dual-language (Tagalog and English) bi-weekly newspaper on Oahu near Pearl Harbor. Within a year of my arrival in Hawaii, friends of Ellie’s family recommended me for a job at a 24-hour service station between Ala Moana and Waikiki in Honolulu. Eventually, I managed the night shift and developed a close relationship with the Hawaii Armed Services Police (HASP) who came to the station as needed to quell the all-too-frequent melees between shore-leave sailors down from Bremerton and the local Hawaiian men who regretted the naval incursion upon “their” vaunted beaches and night life.